RPGs are my thing, and I have always had respect for SOE as a developer. Despite some obvious mistakes the company's made when under the umbrella of large intellectual properties like DC Comics and Star Wars, SOE has handled its own IPs very well. It was also one of the first Western AAA studios to step into the world of free-to-play (with Free Realms, which continues to perform well). And now PlanetSide 2 proclaims that online FPS titles can not only provide exciting vehicle combat but do so in a persistent world.
So when SOE invited Massively to join Game Designer Margaret Krohn on a guided tour of PlanetSide 2, I thought, "Why not? At least I'll get to shoot some people in the face."
If you are a noob like I am, then it's probably best that I give a short introduction to the game. PlanetSide 2 takes place across the three continents of Auraxis. Three empires battle for ultimate control of the planetary resources. The more territory a faction gains, the more resources it can use to produce ammo, fuel, and so on. The entire game is full-on player-vs.-player action, and the world is persistent. So it's quite possible that a single battle for a specific base could last for days or even weeks. My two play sessions were only about an hour each, so I caught only a tiny glimpse of the overall action. However, I did get a chance to participate in the three major forms of combat: on foot, in ground vehicles, and in the air. And I played two out of the three factions.
The general mechanics
Once everyone participating in the tour gathered together, Maggie introduced us quickly to the mechanics of the game.
First, she described the squad. A squad consists of up to 12 members and can be combined into platoons for massive coordination. Squads and platoons use an in-game voice chat provided by Vivox. I've used Vivox before in games like Star Wars Galaxies and via the stand-alone web client. I believe the proximity voice chat is still being worked on, but the squad chat worked as well as any other VoIP software. I didn't really notice any stand-out features this time around, but it worked fairly well, which is more than can be said for other VoIP software. That's right, Mumble -- I'm talking to you!
We started the tour in the Vanu Sovereignty warp gate. Warp gates are areas of each continent that cannot be attacked by the other factions. From the ground or while in the air, a player can recognize a warp gate by the giant bubble surrounding the base. The warp gates act as the primary jump point for your faction on that particular continent. They house all the vehicle and equipment terminals, and as expected, no matter where you might be defeated on the map, you can always respawn at the warp gate.
The classes are also typical and expected for a game like this. You have the stealth Infiltrator class, the jetpack-wielding Light Assault, an Engineer for repairing vehicles, a Combat Medic for repairing humans, a bazooka-carrying Heavy Assault, and the mech-like Max. OK, the Max isn't exactly typical, and in my opinion, it's not much fun to play either once you consider its huge size and slow speed. It was far more fun to grab a vehicle to assault the enemy camp than to stomp along pretending to be Ripley from Alien.
The one continent open to us this time around was Indar. This massive continent consists of an arid desert region and hilly grasslands sprinkled with medium-sized trees. Although there isn't much foliage, it was certainly enough for a few unskilled aircraft pilots to get their vehicles caught in the trees. During one particularly funny incident, I saw a gunboat stuck in a tree, and despite the fact that the gunner was completely immobile, he was taking pot shots at our passing convoy anyway!
SOE outdid itself with the scenery. I spent some of the tour time just flying around in the Mosquito, taking in the sights. When ground-pounding, I found enough hiding places to be able to sneak up to enemy bases or take shots at passing vehicles. The day-to-night cycle makes for entertaining moments; the transitions at dusk and dawn give the environment life that you don't find in many MMOs.
Before I close up here, I'd like to mention the vehicles because they add an exciting dynamic to the game. I absolutely love them, even though my first trip on a four-wheeler sent me falling off a cliff. And I accidentally jumped out of my Scythe without a parachute the first time I flew one of those.
Although the system is still being perfected, each vehicle takes collision damage, which makes for some interesting moments if you happen to be following too close to a tank and it decides to back up. It also makes landing an aircraft interesting. However, with a bit of coaching from Maggie, I quickly mastered it. (Not really "mastered," but I was able to land without blowing up.)
Who should play this
It's hard for me to give this game an honest review at this point. It is a solid game, and I'm extremely interested in seeing how it does in the future. It's a compelling PvP game, and by that measure, SOE has a winner here. However, I'd be hard-pressed to log into this game every day. When the game releases, you can probably look for me to log in about once a week when I just feel like pounding faces. The instant-action drop points make this kind of gameplay even easier. If you're not a fan of shooters at all, then I don't think there will be any compelling reason for you to play. The persistent world adds a bit of MMO to the FPS, but the game doesn't add a whole lot of FPS to the MMO. Don't play if you're looking for a storyline, but if you seek an interesting dynamic in your online shooter, add this game to your library as soon as possible.
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